By: Margery Sly
On March 14, 1939, Detective Sergeant Jacob H. Gomborow assigned six detectives from the Philadelphia Bureau of Police's radical squad to attend a meeting organized by the Committee for Racial and Religious Tolerance held at the West Philadelphia branch of the YMCA at 52nd and Sansom Streets. The committee was an interfaith group sponsored by well-known clergy and politicians including Daniel A. Poling, Rufus M. Jones, C. Davis Matt, and Francis J. Myers.
Prior to the meeting, Gomborow had received information that a group of Nazis was planning to infiltrate the tolerance gathering and instructed detectives to sit in the audience to monitor the meeting for any disturbances. The detectives witnessed a number of persons heckling the speakers, making slanderous remarks against Jews, and nailing anti-Semitic literature and posters to the walls.
One of those men, William J. Rigney, stood up repeatedly during the meeting, interrupting the speaker, proclaiming that "Hitler is right in what he is doing to the Jews" and "it is the Jews own fault." The meeting was abruptly adjourned as a result of the disorder caused by these men. As they left, the detectives observed these same men distributing leaflets promoting racial and religious hatred and pasting anti-Jewish stickers on cars and store windows in the surrounding neighborhood.
Detectives arrested eleven of the "Nazi strong armers" who were subsequently charged with inciting a riot. In the early morning hours of March 15, three others were arrested at City Hall, including Thomas A. Blisard, Jr. and Joseph A. Gallagher, while they were attempting to secure the release of those arrested outside the tolerance meeting.
Joseph A. Gallagher, chairman of the Anti-Communist Society of Philadelphia, a group founded by the West Philadelphia High School teacher and Nazi sympathizer Bessie "Two-Gun" Burchett, protested the arrests, claiming they were a "frame-up." Gallagher also denied that the literature found in his car, which included copies of the Father Charles E. Coughlin publication Social Justice, was anti-Semitic propaganda.
Thomas A. Blisard, Jr. (aka Blissard or Blizzard) and his family were well known in the community and to police as rabid anti-Communists and self-described Coughlinites. At the time, Blisard was chairman of the Philadelphia Committee for the Defense of Constitutional Rights, a group originally formed to protest against the radio station WDAS. The station had dropped Father Coughlin's broadcasts when he refused to provide advance scripts of his addresses. Blisard's father made use of tolerance meeting arrests to further their cause, printing and circulating fliers publicizing the "persecution of gentiles" suffered at the hands of an "organized gang of Jews."
Recently prepared for research use, the Jacob H. Gomborow Papers, housed in Temple University Libraries' Special Collections Research Center, document Gomborow's activities as an officer and detective in Philadelphia's Bureau of Police, responsible for leading the bureau's radical squad in their investigations of anti-Semitic, subversive, and radical groups in the 1920s, 30s, and 40s. View the online finding aid or catalog record to learn more about the Jacob H. Gomborow Papers or to request access to the collection in the SCRC reading room on the ground floor of Paley Library.
Jessica M. Lydon, Associate Archivist, SCRC